Friday, November 17, 2006

Tonight I Can Write

The poem Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines by Pablo Neruda is resonating in my head when I think of an email that I received last night. Just yesterday I was thinking about five brave women who dared to stand up against their boss who was sexually harassing them and eventually decided to take their case to the court. And then I found an email by them in my mailbox.
I was the first and later one of the very few journalists to cover their plight. (One of the articles is found here, and here is the correction to the article because during the editiorial process somebody made a crucial mistake by accident and changed a yes to a no. My last article on the subject can be found here; later I stopped covering the story as I went on maternity leave.)
Before I could start to write the story in our paper, I first needed to explain to the editors why the story is important, and persuade them to run it. Sexual harassment in still not take seriously in this country. After the details of the harassment were revealed in a magazine (in much more graphic way that I had done on purpose, knowing that the women wouldn't want the public to read about all the details; the graphic description were revealed by their attorney), people at the paper started to say that the what had happened was horrible and that we should write about it. Since then I had free hands and I could write about it as much as I wanted.
The story which started in December 2003 ended with the verdict (on February 24 2005; my article about it can be found here) which found the boss guily; the verdict was later confirmed in the court of appeals (on March 7 2006). Thus the boss was officially and publicly found guilty and had to leave his position. (As the story ended when I was already on maternity leave, I am providing this link to the story.)
I thought that this was it and that the women finally proved that they were not lying or that they were not taking him to the court because of some kind of revenge; that they were not hysteric, that they did not overacted and so on. While working in this institution, they had to listen to such remarks daily.
The thing is that SLOVEnia had to change its Labor Rights Act in order to join the EU; the new article 45 was specifically created to meed the EU standards. It is supposed to protect the workers in such cases. This article says that it is the employer who has to prove that no sexual discrimination appeared in the office.
But who is the employer if we are talking about the public health institution whose boss is appointed by the government and supervised by a special board of the institution? The government? The Minister of Health? Should the boss who is accused of discrimination prove that he did not do it? Or should this be done by this board?
The now ex-boss is still employed by the institute. So are three out of five women. And they are seeking help again. While the criminal case (with the boss as the defendant) had been tryed in the criminal court, they also filed a lawsuit against the institution in the labour court because the institution did nothing to protect them. In September there was a possibility that the case will settle outside the court but the new boss then said that she will consult the board again. According to the women the composition of members of the board has hardly changed; in it there are more or less the same people who refused to help the women in the first place. They reacted only after the boss was found guilty.
So is it likely that they will help the women now? No. And they did not. They say they will wait until all of the legal opportunities that the boss decided to act on will run out.
That means that the whole point of Article 45 is in vain; that in this country it still up to the victim of the sexual harassment to prove that something happened to her.
No wonder that the only way to recognize and end discrimination in SLOVEnia is to ask for help from abroad as the Slovene Ombudsman did in the Ambrus case (and he was immediately critized for this by the prime minister). Only when it is clearly shown to us that what is going on is discrimination and that it is something we cannot tolerate, we are willing to open our eyes.
I cannot forget the words of a journalist from the Guardian (they are published on this blog) who said that he sees the Ambrus story through the perspective of what was happening in the 1960s in USA with African American community and its fight for the human rights.


Jana SJ said...

And so I wrote in my articles - policy makers did not and continue not to care. What SLO did was merely following the acquis, introducing laws and articles nobody felt were necessary or passionately cared about to start with. I do, however, believe, that the legal practice will improve the every-day-approach to this burning issue. Let's keep our fingers crossed and let's keep on writing about these issues!

Sonja said...

I was thinking of you when I wrote this blog. It's so depressing, isn't it? That actually nobody cares...

ales said...

i am always puzzled when a story like yours pops up in my face.

what puzzles me is public talk of a body (THE body) again and again sexualizes our social existance.

what we probably both dislike here is that through the case like this harrasment becomes a private relationship, a relashionship between a "stallion" and "a lady".

noli me tangere!

what i would like is the case reported as a KIND of social harrasment!

does your paper reports on employers forbidding workers to have a regular rest or forcing them to work monotonous tasks? are there stories there on harrasments employers force on worker's families when the bread they earn fails to feed them properly? what about the new enterpreneurs with business "zones" kidnapping communal budgets - is it harrasment for villagers in Haloze that the mayor channels money from communal investments into zones' tax heavens?
is it harrasment for able applicants that every public post is won privately?

let's write about harrasments that happen in absentia of THE body, i.e. that concerns desexualized body!

Sonja said...

@ales: I think all kinds of harassment should be reported, and many are; also in our paper (for example stories about abuse of workers). But sexual harrasment continues to be a taboo in our society and therefore it deserves a special attention.